Friends, volunteers, and donors feel ‘duped’ by Exitus CEO arrested for fraud
Sep 18, 2023, 8:40 PM | Updated: 10:22 pm
SALT LAKE CITY — Two women are coming forward to explain how they fell victim to the alleged schemes of the Exitus CEO, now in jail, accused of fraud in her anti-human trafficking organization. They’re also dealing with the fallout from her arrest.
Both women called Candace Lierd, who went by Candace Rivera, a friend, and now they feel they were manipulated into giving time and money for Lierd’s personal gain.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office charged Lierd with nearly three dozen crimes, ranging from forgery to fraud to theft. She’s accused of misrepresenting herself to raise $1.6 million in donations and accused of embezzling at least a few hundred thousand dollars for personal expenses, like buying a house and a car, and going on trips.
According to the Utah AG, Lierd faked documents to lie about being a registered nurse and used those false credentials for speaking engagements and for working with orphaned children in a medical capacity.
She also allegedly falsely said she held a position with the United Nations and was featured on BBC news.
Those who knew her said they were not aware of what Lierd allegedly did, and have called her a “con artist.”
“We were doing great things”
Sitting at her kitchen table in Provo, Kimberly Morgan played a video on her laptop that featured Morgan with Lierd. She said the two of them were close friends.
Morgan explained that the video, published in May, promoted the campaign project foundHER, under Lierd’s company CR House & Co. She was excited to work on the project.
“FoundHER was supposed to be kind of this rollout of this campaign with a few different services that were at a more affordable price, for women to be able to get help in starting their business,” she explained. “CR House & Co originally only did lux clients, so the foundHER program rollout was meant to accommodate your everyday woman.”
Working tirelessly on setting up the program, Morgan described how she spent her personal unpaid time creating the website, doing all the admin work, all the products, social media, planning, and prepping.
She was planning to get paid for her work at some point.
“I definitely started out pretty much breaking my back, putting in, you know, close to what a full-time job would be, if not a little bit more,” she said.
Plus, Morgan said she did work for CR House & Co. and volunteered for Lierd’s anti-human trafficking organization Exitus.
She helped in anti-human trafficking operations, including one during the NBA All-Star weekend that Morgan said truly did take place. KSL TV ran a story with Lierd about their plans, and Morgan said they were able to save real people that weekend.
She expressed that Exitus volunteers, staff, and survivor advocates were amazing, passionate, and incredible to work with.
“We were doing great things,” Morgan said. “Like I went out and did outreach, and that was very impactful for me.”
Morgan began to see issues with Lierd, but said that Lierd always had an explanation or an answer that made it easy to trust what Lierd was saying.
Plus, Lierd worked with many reputable organizations and people in the community. She said even the US Department of Homeland Security worked with Lierd.
“I had sat in Homeland Security’s office with her, and it was like, who am I to question this person who’s done all of these incredible things?” Morgan said.
“There were always red flags”
Mary Crafts described the exact same feeling as Morgan, that something wasn’t quite right. But that gut feeling was always overshadowed by the passion for the cause.
She considered Lierd a friend, and Crafts volunteered for Exitus. Lierd gave Crafts a humanitarian award at an Exitus gala last fall for her volunteer work.
Crafts traveled to Ukraine with Lierd and Exitus in 2022 to help orphans. She spoke to KSL TV last year about her life-changing experience.
“While I was in Ukraine with Exitus, I felt like I personally did a lot of good work,” Crafts said. “And there were several other volunteers that were there, that did the same wonderful work.”
But, she always felt something was off about Lierd.
“There were always red flags, but I so wanted to believe,” she said, discussing the anti-human trafficking cause. “She did just enough good. And we would see that, that we would keep believing.”
Crafts talked about how at one point, she asked Lierd how she came to afford her lifestyle, with a nice house and a nice car.
“She said, ‘Oh, that’s something people don’t know about me. I actually have several companies that supply my income, and I don’t take any money from Exitus,'” Crafts remembers Lierd telling her.
In addition to giving time, Crafts gave money to Exitus. She estimates she donated around $20,000 to the organization. Crafts also vouched for Lierd to many prominent people and organizations in the community.
“I just began to introduce her to my network of friends, people in the philanthropic area, people in foundations, people that had very noteworthy names,” she said.
Now Crafts is feeling duped.
“I was used, to bring about her credibility,” she said.
A sad irony
After Crafts first learned of Lierd’s arrest, she got angry. Then, she began to feel deeply hurt.
“To know that I was giving time, energy, money, and endorsement– that’s the biggest piece for me,” she said.
Crafts described feeling responsible for introducing Lierd to others and raising her cause in the community.
“I don’t care about the money at this point, but that I endorsed her… and others were also duped.” Crafts said.
She explained that she’s been getting calls and texts all weekend, from organizations and people who were blindsided by Lierd’s arrest. Crafts worries about how this will affect innocent people and legitimate organizations who worked with Exitus or had ties to Lierd.
One person, Crafts explained, helped their company raise $100,000 for Exitus.
“Many of them have reached out to me in tears and sorrow,” Crafts said.
She is now thinking of where things go from here and how this will impact the larger philanthropic community.
“I don’t want to live in this place of regret,” she concluded. “I want to learn the lessons from here, and then move on.”
After realizing she would likely not get paid for her work, Morgan said she talked with Lierd last Tuesday to let her know that she was parting ways.
“That’s when the real unraveling kind of started to begin,” she said.
On Friday, Lierd was arrested. The calls began to pour in for her, too, from people deeply affected by Lierd’s arrest. Some of the people Morgan is hearing from are survivors who relied on Exitus for help.
“Those are some of the hardest conversations to have, because these are people who have been exploited and traumatized. And they finally felt like they found a place to land, a safe place to land, and they entrusted Candace with their deepest secrets, with their trauma,” Morgan said. “And now they, they’re questioning the reality all over again.”
Morgan urged people not to jump to judgments and conclusions about individuals or organizations who worked with Lierd. She asked for grace as everyone processed the news.
“Please understand that we all have a strong passion for this cause of anti-human trafficking and exploitation,” she said. “And the reality is, a grand majority of the people in this were exploited and really trafficked for their time, which is the sad irony.”
“Please don’t make me regret trusting you”
A former employee and volunteer at Exitus told KSL TV that Candace Lierd also duped him.
“Nothing you know about Candace Rivera or Candace Lierd is real, absolutely nothing,” Matt Johnson said.
He was originally a volunteer social media content creator for Exitus, and now, says Lierd manipulated him.
An email sent out to board members of Exitus, by two key members who resigned in June says they stepped away due to a deterioration in trust and serious concerns over how Lierd was unilaterally spending funds. Booking documents allege she bilked donors out of nearly one-point-seven million dollars since 2020.
Johnson said when he would question Lierd about decisions, she belittled him.
“She would make you feel dumb for asking the question, meaning that she would minimize, like, why would you even ask me such a question,” he said.
Johnson said he wasn’t surprised when he heard of her arrest.
“I said, please don’t make me regret trusting you. and those were literally my final words to her,” he said.
KSL TV’s Debbie Worthen contributed to this story.